RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — With Virginia's Senate contest still too close to call Wednesday, Democratic incumbent Sen Mark Warner's supporters are wondering "what happened" while GOP challenger Ed Gillespie's fans are wondering "what if?"
Warner led by nearly 17,000 votes out of more than 2.1 million cast with nearly all precincts reporting on Wednesday afternoon. Warner declared victory late Tuesday. But Gillespie has not conceded and The Associated Press has not called the race.
But it's a margin far closer than polls, pundits and Warner's supporters predicted.
A first-term senator, Warner left the governor's mansion in 2006 with high approval ratings and won a Senate seat in 2008 by sweeping nearly every county in the state.
But he came crashing to earth Tuesday thanks in large part to President Barack Obama's sagging approval ratings.
Localities around the state begin to finalize their vote totals in a process called a canvass, and the State Board of Elections will meet November 24 to certify the official results.
Warner supporters are confident their candidate has more than enough votes to withstand a possible recount, which Gillespie can request if the margin is 1 percent or less. By mid-afternoon Wednesday, Gillespie hadn't conceded the race or said whether he will request a recount.
Instead, he issued a statement saying he's still watching the results to "ensure Virginians have confidence in the accuracy of the results."
Meanwhile, Warner's supporters noted that even though the race was much closer than they thought it would be, Warner apparently withstood a GOP wave that swept Republicans into the Senate majority and elected their candidates to governorships in such typically Democratic states as Maryland and Illinois.
"His long record of popularity is what I think saved him," said Democratic state Sen. Adam Ebbin.
Exit polls showed the Democrat's support among men dropped by 20 percent compared to the 2008 election, and dropped 19 percent from white voters. Self-described moderates and independents also dropped by about 20 percent from six years ago. But Warner supporters note a solid majority, 56 percent, of voters still hold a favorable view of Warner compared to only 40 percent for Obama.
The exit polls were based on a survey of 2,100 voters at 35 polling places and the results have a margin of error of 4 percent.
As for Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman's supporters are heartened by the closer-than-expected results, but are left wondering what might have been if Gillespie had received more outside help.